06 December 2013

Squaw Flat

Los Padres National Forest

Locate the trailhead.

There's a sign in Fillmore that says "Forest, thata way" and it's time to stop ignoring that. Dough Flat seems a sensible spot to go dipping a toe into this area, with no difficulties except that the road is "impassible when wet", possibly "rutted", and probably "closed for the season next Monday". With rain coming, the time is ripe to check it out. I decided to head toward Ant Camp and loaded the GPS with the possible location of a couple monuments in case I didn't feel like I had time for a long hike. Twisting along the dirt road around the side of the mountain does take quite some time, especially if heeding the 15 MPH speed limit. It turns out the sensible person with FWD and 6" clearance should turn around about 1/4 mile from the last gate where the first ruts appear on a bit of a slope. I give up on the road in a spot of good road just big enough to turn around in between another set of ruts up a steep hill and a lumpy section where a wash crosses, then park below a little waterfall with the suggestion of water coming over it just over half a mile from the end of the road. The hike up the rest of the road is quick and shows one more spot that would be a serious challenge to drive in a short vehicle. It can't be too tough, as a couple of guys in camo are unloading a couple donkeys before getting them into a horse trailer they got up the road as I get there.

a little waterfall by the side of the road
Starting the day by a little waterfall with just a hint of water.

Just before the Dough Flat turnout at the end of the road, there's a short trail up to a condor observation point. The trailhead has facilities and slightly shot English signs with the Spanish left unmolested. The road bed continues with a substantial blockade on it marked with the rules of the wilderness: no motors and no bicycles. The trail is almost entirely marked with shod hooves. Around the hill, there is an old wooden wilderness sign.

Sespe Wilderness sign
Heading into the Sespe Wilderness.

The trail climbs and drops and climbs some more within the old road bed. For the most part, it is easy travel. There is a washout early on at a spot that once had a road spur to a spring and the trail up to Whiteacre Peak, neither now visible, but the trail makes a solid route through it. There are no obvious signs of the abandoned trail to Pigeon Flat as I drop into Squaw Flat either. There are lost trails everywhere.

dropping into Squaw Flat
Coming into Squaw Flat from the south.

Down in the flat, I pull out the map and start matching up the landscape and choosing a route for monument finding. The first along the way is marked with a solid triangle which I can't find in the legend. The wide open valley is much better suited to matching landscape to map than the tight Cienaga Canyon. Picking a finger of land and some deer trails, I start climbing up. The brush is generally easy to push through and not over shoulder height. Halfway up, I compare again and pick a rock outcrop that seems the likely location. Passing the guessed location loaded in the GPS, I'm looking carefully for markers, but still have some climbing to do. Getting to the outcrop, there's a large cairn of red rocks and a post planted in the rock and a paint can. There's no more information on the monument than on the map.

monument post in the bushes
Spotting a post sticking out of the dirt in a paint can means USMM no. 177 is found.

I take a moment to look around from my high point and try to sort out the next monument location. Sulphur Peak dominates the west view and Whiteacre rises above the closer hills to the east.

Squaw Flat stretching out below
Overlooking Squaw Flat and a little bit more.

Whiteacre Peak
Whiteacre Peak rising to the east as cliff-like bluffs. It has quite a different character from what was seen from the other side near Townsend Peak.

Sulphur Peak
Looking back over my route up, Sulphur Peak rises in the background.

It is a matter of following my own footprints back down for my route down. The more direct route down is attractive for being relatively vegetation free, but is very steep. Back in the flat, I've only picked up one scratch for my off trail efforts. I pass a mysterious post with barbed wire hanging off it in the flat and bump into some strewn metal. Starting up the trail, there is a spur to the camp which displays more random pieces of metal, mostly corrugated sheet metal. Past that, a green spot hints at the location of the spring, but doesn't quite look like a water source.

Squaw Flat Camp
Squaw Flat Campground with random bits of metal. The apparent sign on the tree is a curious metal piece nailed to it and not a sign.

Getting near the second monument, I check again with the map and the land. I could use a little intuition for locating the previous one, but this one is another PLSS monument. They go wherever they land, not where it seems sensible to put them. I pick a finger of land to climb again and start up it. This one has almost no resistance to travel from the vegetation, but eventually I've climbed too high. Some more comparing and I start down another finger of land and then let the GPS guess guide me. It turns out to have been a rather good guess and there is a post only a few feet further down the hill between a couple bushes. This is a particularly cute one as this township (the six miles square specified by range and township) only has a few of the normal sections defined and this section only has a neighbor to the south, so this section corner only has one section marked.

single section corner
Sections 7, 6, and 5 would be expected to share this corner ordered clockwise from 8, but on this 1922 monument, they don't exist.

PLSS monument in the bushes
Set by measuring the land with a length of chain, the PLSS markers land in seemingly random locations.

I head down in through the drainage, which is even more clear of vegetation and easy to travel in. The rocks that stick out are full of sea shell fossils, but along the way down the drainage, I notice a rock that seems to be porous in a funny way in parts. It is broken, but it is the fossil of a large bone. Back at the trail, I keep climbing out of the flat, stopping for a bit to draw Whiteacre again.

big bone fossil in a broken rock
A bit of bone embedded in a rock. The white sections show a texture that can be found in bone. (Click to embiggen.)

At the top of the climb out of the flat, there is another mysterious tall post and someone has left water and energy drink, both partly drunk, near it. I go a little further, but decide to turn back when it starts going downhill, not realizing how close I am to Bucksnort Spring. The thing is, it is already 3PM and I want a little bit of light left for navigating the ruts back out and the detours mean I'm not sure how far that is.

route through hills and down
The route drops again as it goes further. Above, it almost looks like it is already raining, but that is probably just the winter afternoon light.

blue cliffs above Squaw Flat
Dropping back into the flat and into view of the blue cliffs that sit at the northeast edge. Might have to come back during a good rain to see that waterfall going some time.

Squaw Flat
Squaw Flat from the north end.

Coming down, the wind starts to cut and I have to fish out a jacket. I met a fellow riding a mule with a second belled and tied behind going in. He pulled to the side to let me pass and chatted about how cold it was getting. The mules seemed quite good natured, but also looked a lot like two of three I had seen grazing near the road as I came in. After passing, there's another animal coming up the way. It's the third mule and it hops into the bushes as I get near, shuffles around back there as I pass, then hops out once I'm down the trail a little. I finish off the trail chuckling.

three mules going up the trail
A fellow and his mules headed into the Sespe in the evening. I felt it best not to ask about luggage.

Back at the trailhead with plenty of light, I decide to see what a condor observation site entails. The trail winds back and forth climbing at the pace of a wheel chair ramp. It is cut in a few places and it is hard to resist the temptation to join the cut on such a ridiculous path. It needs some quick brushing, but is pretty good. At the top, there are two benches pointed at Whiteacre and a sign showing bird silhouettes and wing span to help in identifying California Condors. Spots up the trail are almost certainly better, but this could be alright if it is all you can get to.

Dough Flat
The loop at what is now the end of the road at Dough Flat.

Condor Observation Site
Benches and a sign on a little hill make the condor observation site.

Heading down again, I notice the bridge that once crossed the dry creek to a second loop that is long gone. It is quick back down the road to the car and I manage not to drop it into any of the ruts on the way out, but it is sure nice to have the bit of daylight to help seeing all the details.

©2013 Valerie Norton
Posted 7 December 2013

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